Get it? Dig? Yeah, that was low-hanging fruit.

When I first saw Shovel Knight on Kickstarter, there was just some concept art, basic gameplay info, and a little gameplay available to view, but I was hooked. I backed it early and have been waiting patiently ever since. Yacht Club games has regularly shared information and trailers with us, only making the wait harder.

Well, the wait is over. Today, June 26, Shovel Knight is out! Yacht Club Games was kind enough to share review copies with us a few days early so we could share our thoughts on release.

If you're familiar with the difficult platformers on the NES, this fits right in. The only thing missing from the experience was fidgeting with an NES cartridge to get the game to work. The gameplay takes inspiration from a few different games in the era. It feels like Zelda II, Duck Tales and Mega Man were all thrown into a pot, and it's a match made in heaven.

The game plays extremely well, with tight controls and a satisfying difficulty curve. Your shovel is your constant companion. Bash your enemies with it, or use it to reach new areas Scrooge McDuck style. There are NPCs who can help you unlock new special attacks for your shovel and new armor that has different benefits/drawbacks. You have an overworld map like Super Mario Bros. 3 to select the level you want to take on, and you fight your way through enemies and platforming segments to fight the knight at the end of each level. These boss fights are incredibly varied and require some skill to take down.

There's no classic lives system in Shovel Knight, so you'll never get a game over screen. The penalty for dying is losing a chunk of your gold. It will drop where you die, so as long as you get back to that spot again, you can get it back.

There are plenty of secrets in each level, and tricky bonus stages that take advantage of unlockable abilities you'll gain. I'm not ashamed to admit leaving most of these bonus levels with less gold than I entered with. The levels start off easy but by the 2/3 mark you'll be struggling. It's a satisfying level of difficulty, and definitely falls into the "Nintendo hard" category. You can always see how you could do things better and fix your mistakes for your next run.

Graphically, Shovel Knight is stellar. Nostalgia for those old platformers I mentioned is here in spades (pun slightly intended). The sprites and levels all look like they came right out of the 8-bit era, and are perfectly designed.

The music is an important factor in these games, and Yacht Club was smart to bring in Manami Matsumae, composer for Mega Man, for her extensive talent in crafting 8-bit anthems. The music is a huge part of the atmosphere, and provides an epic soundtrack for your quest.

One interesting mechanic in Shovel Knight is the checkpoint system. As you play through each level there are a few checkpoints along the way that will save your progress if you die. However, you can bust the checkpoint with your shovel and get some loot out of it. You'll need that loot for upgrades, but when you bust the checkpoint you risk losing progression if you die. It's an interesting tradeoff that I would like to see in more games.

Overall, I can't recommend this game enough. It's one of my most anticipated games of the year and it more than lived up to my hype for it. You can get it today for Wii U, 3DS, and PC through the Humble Store and Steam (currently Windows-only, but Mac and Linux are being worked on).

You can also check out the Cheerful Ghost interview with Sean Velasco of Yacht Club Games here: